Tuesday, September 23, 2014

4 Remedies for Rejuvenating Your Writing Mind

This post may seem to be focused addressing professional writers. But if you're tasked with writing content for your business's website, blog, newsletter or press releases, then you're writing content for professional use. And if you're tasked with doing enough of it, enough of the time, you'll start to feel the pressure sooner or later, no matter how many years of experience you have. What do you do when the blank screen suggests absolutely nothing to you? How do you get literary blood out that overworked turnip between your ears? It's a question we all have to contend with. Here are four suggestions that I've found helpful:

1. Stop thinking. Zoning out is more productive than you might realize. It may take the form of mild daydreaming about your writing project, or it could be more of a Zen-like state in which you simply think of nothing at all. These practices are highly beneficial to a locked-up, stressed-out creative mind. They not only gives the gray matter a rest, but they also silence the merciless self-critic behind so many cases of writer's block. There's a reason Ray Bradbury kept a sign above his typewriter that read, "DON'T THINK."

2. Go for a walk. Many of the great creative minds in history could just as well be dubbed "creative feet," favoring lengthy walks as they chewed over the morning's work or the evening session to come. It makes a kind of sense if you think about it. Light exercise stimulates cardiovascular performance, pushing oxygenated blood through your brain and improving your mental efficiency. Walking can strike you as either highly inspiring or about as interesting as watching paint dry -- and believe it or not, either of these reactions can give your creativity a boost. You might become charged with ideas from observing the local flora and fauna, or you might find your surroundings so deadly dull that you have nothing to thing about EXCEPT your writing. Walking can also relieve muscular tension, another potential distraction.

3. Sleep. "Sleeping on it" is more than just an expression -- it's also a legitimate way to solve nagging questions and issues on any kind of project that requires creative problem solving. Many times my head has hit the pillow in a state of utter confusion, only to wake up with a sense of absolute clarity, the answer to my problem suddenly resembling child's play. Whether your subconscious mind pulled an all-nighter while your slept or your conscious mind just was just too pooped to see the obvious, plenty of sleep can solve plenty of writing worries.

4. Write anyway. If that writing project is due tomorrow and your brilliance engine just won't engage for love or money, sometimes all you can do is grit your teeth and write the stupid thing. If you have the technique, you'll still manage to turn out respectable, professional-level work. If you're still learning your craft, the result might be rough around the edges -- but hey, that's what revisions are for. Feel your client out on this issue -- some regard the deadline as holy writ, while others will want you to take that extra day if it'll make a significant difference in the quality of the draft. 

One final suggestion: Sometimes the best thing you can do for a creative project is add a second point of view. If you feel that it's time to get another writer on board, you know who to call! I'll be sure to come running -- unless I'm busy daydreaming, walking, sleeping or writing.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Lead the Way with Your Own Marketing Style

As you may know, I came to marketing copywriting via dramatic writing. But as an undergraduate drama major I dipped my toe into all aspects of the art form, from acting and directing to makeup design. I remember taking a costume history course in which the instructor talked about the difference between style and fashion. Style, she explained, was the bold new look that no one else had adopted yet, while fashion was what happened once a style was taken up by everybody. You could be stylish and set the trend, or you could be fashionable and ride the trend. Imitators might gain smiles of approval, but they weren't likely to create open mouths or raised eyebrows.

I've had marketing content meetings in which the client said something along the lines of, "I see my competitors doing this or that, so I'm thinking I need to do something similar." No. You need to do something different. Imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery, but it's a lousy way to set yourself apart from the crowd. I've said it before and I'll say it again: When your marketing content is as good as everybody else's, that just means that it's no better than anybody else's. What's the point in having a unique value proposition if you blanket that UVP in generic content?

Following the crowd too closely not only causes you to blend in to an unnoticeable degree; in some cases it can actually set you back. A couple of reasons why:

You may end up promoting your competitor. Let's say it's the 1980s, and you're running a fast-food chain called Burgers R Us. Wendy's has just taken the country by storm with its ads featuring Clara Peller as a cranky old lady yelling, "Where's the beef?" Well, hey, you sell beef too, and surely you can find an old lady to help you catch some rays off the Wendy's halo. So what happens? Your target viewers say, "Hey, these spots remind me of the old lady in Wendy's ads. Remember her? Wasn't she funny? Hmm, now that I think of it, I could go for some Wendy's right now." Oops.

Your competitor may have it all wrong. Some of the biggest and brightest companies have made enormous marketing screw-ups over the years. (Remember New Coke? Neither do I.) By riding their coattails, you could end up on the fast track to disaster. The only difference is that your Fortune 500 competitor may have enough long-term brand value, and deep enough pockets, to outlive a catastrophic lapse in judgement. Do you?

So what does it all come down to? Originality. Instead of reacting to the current big thing, be the next big thing. Instead of aping someone else's unique ideas, initiate your own. If you need to engage that creativity by outsourcing a freelance copywriter, designer or other marketing professional, then make that investment. Emphasize your uniqueness -- and set the style instead of following the fashion.